Contributed by Mark Douglas
Note: this post serves as an extended annotation to the work of Eigenbrode and others (2007)
Complexity in the sciences requires integrated insights among scientific disciplines. Primarily, it’s important to figure out how much integration is called for when dealing with research problems. This requires consideration of both the nature of the problem and the preexisting mutual understanding that exists among the people and their differing disciplinary backgrounds. The clarification of assumptions is imperative to successful integration of efforts involving multiple disciplines. Research across traditions must involve the deliberate identification and exploration of fundamental scientific assumptions that are implicit or explicit within the traditions involved.
The remainder of this post will consider challenges that are prevalent in scientific research across disciplines. The challenges covered here relate to (1) the level of integration; (2) linguistic and conceptual divides; (3) what constitutes valid evidence; (4) the social role and societal context of research; (5) foundational perceptions of reality; (6) reductionist and holistic versions of science. These issues are described below.
1. Level of Integration
· Multidisciplinary research entails the study of a single system through multiple methods. The interpretation of findings is often grounded in a discipline that emerged to have a dominant influence.
· Interdisciplinary research requires greater coordination to address multiply scaled research problems. The methods and approaches are often synthesized for a more cohesive approach.
· Transdisciplinary research involves problems that are uniquely formulated which can’t be captured within existing domains. Epistemological perspectives are forged and adopted emerge that are unique to the project. If an epistemological framework emerges this may be termed a “metadiscipline”.
2. Linguistic and Conceptual Divides
· The use of special terms by scientists working in different disciplines may invoke subtle concepts, perspectives, standards and worldviews can serve as short hand within one group while baffling members of another.
3. Validation of Evidence
· The differences in the ways scientists gather, interpret, and share information may create misunderstanding in their perception and confusion across scientific practices.
4. Social Context of Research
· The degree to which citizens play a role in science and policy as well as the degree to which scientists want their work applied in society can confound the process of generating knowledge and solving problems.
5. Perceived Nature of the World
· For some, the world is an objective place independent from the stance somebody takes as a scientist. These worlds allow the pursuit of the “ideal of objectivity”.
· For others, the world envelopes somebody being a scientist to the extent that people, places and things are considered as co-creators of reality. These worlds call for science to be practiced reflexively.
6. Reductionism and Holism
· Reductionist science isolates and analyzes the elements of a system for reproduction in and prediction in models.
· Holistic science examines the emergent properties first-hand for greater understanding.
These differences outlined above call for much more consideration in the performance of scientific practices. Eigenbrode and others (2007) go further by offering probing questions that serve as tools in the identification of views that may or may not be shared by scientists working on problems together. Readers are encouraged to learn more by accessing their work at http://www.bioone.org/doi/pdf/10.1641/B570109.
Eigenbrode, S. D., O'rourke, M., Wulfhorst, J. D., Althoff, D. M., Goldberg, C. S., Merrill, K., ... & Bosque-Pérez, N. A. (2007). Employing philosophical dialogue in collaborative science. BioScience, 57(1), 55-64.